Four weekends ago, we headed down to San Francisco for the wedding of our friends’ daughter Hannah. Years back, I had occasion to be in the Bay Area frequently, whether in San Francisco itself, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, the Peninsula. There was always some reason, from conferences to friend and family visits to stays at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. Yet somehow a dozen years had elapsed since our last time there.
That was a memorable trip. The centerpiece was a game at the then-new Giants baseball stadium. It was the weekend that straddled June and July in 2001. Barry Bonds was on his way to a record 73 home runs. Friday night we watched the end of the game on TV as he ran into the wall and injured himself. He would not be playing Saturday. Darn. This rookie phenom from the Cardinals was playing though. Pujols. Albert Pujols. And Bonds came in after all to pinch hit in the 9th inning. All in all, a great game. Except for the sun. We forgot sunscreen and I got pretty well burned.
But we weren’t there just for baseball. We headed to Golden Gate Park on Sunday. Alas, I had missed the news that the de Young Museum had closed at the beginning of the year and would remain closed for years to come.
In 1989 the de Young suffered significant structural damage as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Fine Arts Museums’ board of trustees completed a project that braced the museum as a temporary measure until a long-term solution could be implemented. For the next several years, the board actively sought solutions to the de Young’s structural jeopardy and solicited feedback from throughout the community, conducting numerous visitor surveys and public workshops.
With extensive public input, the board initiated a process to plan and build a privately financed institution as a philanthropic gift to the city, in the tradition of M. H. de Young. An open architectural selection process took place from 1998 to 1999. The board endorsed a museum concept plan in October 1999, and a successful multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign was initiated under the leadership of board president Diane B. Wilsey.
The resulting design by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron weaves the museum into the natural environment of the park. It also provides open and light-filled spaces that facilitate and enhance the art-viewing experience. Historic elements from the former de Young, such as the sphinxes, the original palm trees, and the Pool of Enchantment, have been retained or reconstructed at the new museum. The former de Young Museum structure closed to the public on December 31, 2000. The new de Young opened on October 15, 2005.
Twelve years later, seeing the de Young was my top priority. Whatever else we did in our free time before the wedding events, we would see the de Young. And so we did.
The de Young’s American Art Department is home to one of the finest survey collections of American paintings in the United States. Strengthened by the acquisition of the Rockefeller Collection of American Art, the de Young’s holdings include more than 1000 paintings ranging from 1670 to the present day.
While essentially chronological, the installation of American art at the de Young juxtaposes works from different cultures and time periods to emphasize the historical connections between works in the collection, and includes galleries devoted to art in the following areas: Native American and Spanish Colonial; Anglo-Colonial; Federal and Neoclassical; Victorian genre and realism; trompe l’oeil still life; the Hudson River School, Barbizon and Tonalism; Impressionism and the Ashcan School; Arts and Crafts; Modernism; Social Realism and American Scene; Surrealism and Abstraction; Beat, Pop and Figurative; and contemporary. Also featured are important California collections with national significance, including examples of Spanish colonial, Arts and Crafts, Bay Area Figurative, and Assemblage art.
Joel and Jessica took off in their own direction, joining us for lunch in the de Young Café before splitting up again.
Here are a few highlights, courtesy of my iPhone.
First, a painting by Joshua Johnson, the earliest known African-American artist, a freed slave in Baltimore. The image is that of the daughter of a wealthy Baltimore merchant. (This and other descriptions are from the signage in the museum.)
This next one is blurry. Sorry. It’s by Horace Pippin, another African-American artist, whose grandmother saw John Brown being led to his hanging in 1859. Pippin emphasizes Brown as a Christ-like martyr, with the jury and prosecutor/persecutor recalling the twelve apostles and Judas.
Next, one of several John Frederick Peto paintings that need to be seen in person for a proper sense of texture.
Near the Peto is this nearly contemporaneous painting by John Haberle.
Here’s a wonderful Sargent.
How about this wonderful Stickley sideboard? I could find a spot for it in our house.
I can’t properly capture this Grant Wood, inspired by Wood’s childhood memories of the annual threshing ritual on his family’s Iowa farm. The accompanying sign suggests that the bisected farmhouse recalls early Renaissance paintings, especially those depicting the Last Supper. Wood thereby endows the farmers with the dignity of biblical disciples partaking of a sacred meal.
Here’s a detail.
I’ll end with a painting by William Zorach, who became a friend of my parents late in his life. I remember his visits to our house.
After viewing the art, we met up and walked to the elevator to go up the tower that contains museum offices and, at its top, a public observation floor. The shot I took of the tower as we left is at the start of this post. Here is the view north toward Marin County.
We left so much unexplored. There’s always next time, which I hope isn’t another dozen years away.
In the five years of Ron’s View, this is by far my longest hiatus. Sorry about that. The longer I go without writing, the larger my list of overdue items and the harder it is to get back in the rhythm. Being in San Francisco two weekends ago (for a wedding) and New York/Chicago last weekend (for family, then business) made it difficult to find time to write. Yet, the trips gave me more to write about. And this weekend had its own major event, which perhaps I’ll get to at some point.
In any case, here I am. Topics I may get to eventually:
1. Paul Schneider’s new book Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History, which I finished three nights ago.
2. John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, his classic of four decades ago, which I’ve been reading intermittently.
3. Ian Rankin’s latest John Rebus crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, which was just released in the UK and arrived by post two days ago. (I couldn’t wait for its US publication in mid-January.)
4. Dinner at Cafe Tiramisu in San Francisco.
6. A Sunday morning drive over the bridge to Sausalito, with an unexpected “grass is greener on the other side” tale.
7. The happy coincidence of our New York trip and the arrival at the Frick of the exhibition Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis, which we attended last weekend.
I will surely write more about some of these items.
Our annual stay in Nantucket came to an end a week ago, and six weeks ago we flew back from New York to Seattle. In past years, I always had a lot to say about our time in Nantucket. This year, not so much. But I think that’s more a function of the general slowdown of Ron’s View this summer than the lack of items to write about.
Early in our Nantucket week, I had written most of a post on our first dinner there, at Topper’s. Before I could finish it, we had eaten another dinner out, and then another, and another. Suddenly I had half a dozen posts to write about Nantucket restaurants. I seem to have given up. Which is too bad, because I really wanted to say a few words about our dinners at Ventuno and Company of the Cauldron, our two favorite restaurants on the island.
Then again, I don’t have much new to say about either of them. Ventuno opened two summers ago in the location of our previous favorite restaurant, 21 Federal. I wrote about it at the time, then again last year. The first post made reference to our sitting not far from John and Teresa Kerry. They didn’t make it this year. Or we didn’t see them anyway. I’m sure he was occupied with Syria. We did sit at the table they had occupied, and had a fabulous meal.
Well, I may as well say more. Here’s a link to the menu. To start, we shared the polpette (meatballs) and the fritelle de ceci (chickpea fries). Then we split an order of pasta: the strozzapretti with chicken sausage, broccoli rabe, and pecorino. Though I don’t think we had broccoli rabe, online menu notwithstanding. It was some other green. Gail followed with the duck breast, while I had the Nantucket fluke, but again not as described on the menu. It was placed on top of the most delightful mix of beans and vegetables. For dessert, the bomboloncini: bittersweet chocolate doughnuts, a small scoop of ice cream, and chocolate sauce.
As for Company of the Cauldron, each night they serve a fixed four-course meal at a fixed time in a gorgeous setting on the lower level of an old building, lit mostly by candlelight. Menus are listed online each week, but our week is long gone, and I’m going to have a hard time remembering what we had. Bread and hummus await. Then the first course. Gail, you’ll have to remind me in the comments section. Then a salad with goat cheese. Then halibut. And then an apple and crust dessert of some sort. A perfect meal, despite my inability to remember or describe it.
Not that our meal at The Pearl the next night suffered much by comparison. We shared golden pork and shrimp potstickers and Vietnamese lettuce wraps. Then we had the Lemongrass & Cilantro BBQ Beef with a side order of fried green tomatoes.
That was Saturday, eight days ago. Earlier in the day, we took our not-quite-annual bike ride from Wauwinet to Sconset, seven miles to the southeast. Gail’s bicycle chain came off two miles into the ride and I didn’t seem to know quite how to get it back on. Fortunately, Joel was just a phone call away. With the time zone difference, we called him a little early, but he was kind enough to answer the phone, and able to tell me what to do. We were thus fortunate to continue our ride.
Sconset is such a lovely village to wander in, with its great beach and superb views out over the ocean, not to mention the unbelievable homes that line Ocean Avenue. After a light lunch at the Sconset Cafe (closed already for the winter, I see at the website), we wandered down Ocean Avenue a ways, coming back to shop at the Sconset Market, check out The Chanticleer (some day we’ll eat there), and go into an art gallery before climbing on our bikes for the ride home.
Maybe I should add some photos.
At the top, a view from the inn where we stay, looking out over the east end of Nantucket Bay, with the ocean just beyond the thin strip of land you see that separates it from the bay.
Here is a shot looking up Main Street in town, away from the harbor.
We always make it a point to stop in at the Nantucket Historical Association‘s Whaling Museum. (We’re members.) We made it our first stop when we got into town this year and took some photos from the rooftop deck. Here’s one, looking out over the entrance to the harbor.
And one more, looking back toward town from Straight Wharf.
Clicking on any of them should yield a higher resolution photo.
Below are two pictures of lower quality that I took in Sconset with my iPhone. The Atlantic from Ocean Avenue:
And part of Sconset’s small commercial area, including the cafe to the right.
As I discussed here and here, I was determined not to let Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher thriller, Never Go Back, ruin our annual vacation on Nantucket this week. It came out Tuesday, our first full day here, and I read only a little. Wednesday we made our day to lie on the chaise longues and read all day, so I got almost 300 pages read.
But Thursday was problematic, since it wasn’t another do-nothing day. We took the inn’s hourly shuttle van into town in the morning, then the island public bus from town out to Madaket on the other end of the island, walked on the beach, ate lunch at Millie’s, and waited for the return bus to town. Along the way, I read 5 pages here, 3 pages there. Then we shopped in town, and on the van ride back to the inn I was able to finish the book. Not my idea of how to read a thriller, but it worked: vacation not ruined, book complete.
There was special irony in coming across this bit of dialogue late in the book as I was riding around Nantucket.
“Suppose they were always rich. Suppose they’re old-money East Coast aristocrats.”
“OK, I’ll watch out for old men in faded pink pants.”
And a few pages later, there was a second reference to faded pink pants.
The irony lies in the fact that I was reading this in the national capital of faded pink pants. As I have written on previous visits here, Murray’s Toggery Shop has trademarked the name Nantucket Red and offers their exclusive Nantucket Reds Collection of canvas shorts and pants.
Red, yes, not pink, but pink is what the color fades into. And after years of coming here, I have become a fan. The shorts are comfortable, rugged, quality fabric, good length. Once we got into town from Madaket Thursday, just after I read these lines, we headed straight to Murray’s for shorts.
I have become a character straight out of a Jack Reacher thriller! Not Jack, but I’ll take what I can get.
We were sitting on our inn’s lawn yesterday afternoon, enjoying the magnificent view over Nantucket Bay and reading our books, when our waitress came over to take our order for a light lunch. She mentioned that someone famous was dining in the restaurant: Drew Barrymore.
I had missed a word or two, or maybe the waitress’s choice of verb tense, as a result of which I thought she was just talking about how over the course of the summer there had been famous people on the property, such as Drew. Then, based on Gail’s response, I realized that Drew was there right that moment.
After we ordered and the waitress headed back in, I asked Gail what movies we had seen Drew in. Confusing movies with blonde female characters whose reruns Gail can watch unceasingly, I suggested Legally Blonde. No, The Wedding Singer. Oh yeah. Now I had a face to put with the name.
A half hour later, I had occasion to walk in, and there she was. I think. Someone simply dressed, attractive but plain looking, talking animatedly to the maitre d’. About the right age, or maybe slightly younger than I expected. At breakfast this morning, our waitress spoke about how approachable Drew was. And no make up.
Yup. That was her. Exciting.
I’ve started it. I’m 65 pages in. It’s great. Help!
It is Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher thriller, Never Go Back. As I mentioned two days ago, I don’t want the book to get in the way of our vacation. I don’t want to be Lee Child’s prisoner for the next 24 hours. Today is our first full day in Nantucket. I want to walk. Go into town. Eat. I can’t just sit and read.
Then again, why not? It’s beautiful out on the lawn. I can read and look out over Nantucket Harbor. Is there anything better to do? (Apparently, yes: blogging about the situation.)
At least I slept last night. The book arrived on my Kindle shortly after midnight. If we were still in Seattle, I might have started it before bedtime and never gone to sleep.
We’re here. It’s beautiful. We’re happy. Need I say more?
(Click on photo for higher resolution view.)
We took a 7:00 am flight to New York Friday morning, leaving today on a noon flight. Not much to report, since mostly we were visiting and eating with family. But let me say a bit about our visit to the Met. First, a word about our arrival.
The flight into JFK was pleasant enough. Our first trip highlight was arriving in the new Delta home in Terminal 4. One of the wonders of Kennedy for years has been just what a dump Delta’s Terminals 2 and 3 have been. To think that Terminal 3 was intended to be a glory of air travel, when Pan Am opened it and ushered it a new era of international travel with its new 747s. It was a wonder all right. The baggage claim area was the biggest pit imaginable.
As for Delta’s new quarters in Terminal 4, our main impression as arrivees was that we sure had to walk a lot. I haven’t walked so far since the last time we changed planes in Heathrow. It took forever to get to the main terminal. Then we had to walk to the far end to get to baggage claim. Which wasn’t a pit at all, but it didn’t help that of the two carousels, one said Seattle while our bags came in on the other.
Saturday afternoon we left my parents and headed into the Met. Two current exhibitions that interested us were closing today, so we were fortunate to get to see them: Photography and the American Civil War, and The Civil War and American Art. I can’t share photos, since none were allowed, but you can see plenty of highlights at the websites for the exhibitions.
Here’s the blurb for the photography show:
More than two hundred of the finest and most poignant photographs of the American Civil War have been brought together for this landmark exhibition. Through examples drawn from the Metropolitan’s celebrated holdings of this material, complemented by important loans from public and private collections, the exhibition examines the evolving role of the camera during the nation’s bloodiest war.
And for the paintings:
This major loan exhibition considers how American artists responded to the Civil War and its aftermath. Landscapes and genre scenes—more than traditional history paintings—captured the war’s impact on the American psyche. The works of art on display trace the trajectory of the conflict and express the intense emotions that it provoked: unease as war became inevitable, optimism that a single battle might end the struggle, growing realization that fighting would be prolonged, enthusiasm and worries alike surrounding emancipation, and concerns about how to reunify the nation after a period of grievous division. The exhibition proposes significant new readings of many familiar masterworks—some sixty paintings and eighteen photographs created between 1852 and 1877—including outstanding landscapes by Frederic E. Church and Sanford R. Gifford, paintings of life on the battlefront and the home front by Winslow Homer and Eastman Johnson, and photographs by Timothy H. O’Sullivan and George N. Barnard. The exhibition at the Metropolitan coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863).
Three months ago, the Met opened a new installation of their European paintings.
The Met’s world-renowned collection of European Old Master paintings from the thirteenth through the early nineteenth century have reopened after an extensive renovation and reinstallation. This is the first major renovation of the galleries since 1951 and the first overall reinstallation of the collection since 1972. Increased in size by almost one-third, the space now accommodates the display of more than seven hundred paintings in forty-five galleries, including one rotating special exhibition gallery.
Eager to learn more, I tore out Holland Carter’s NYT review last May, but I still haven’t read it. Here it is. He writes:
When a monument wakes up, you notice. It’s been more than 40 years since the Metropolitan Museum of Art rethought what many considered its raison d’être, its galleries of European paintings.
The last reinstallation was in 1972 and encompassed a chronological span from Giotto to Picasso. Later, 19th- and 20th-century art was cut loose and sent elsewhere. The rest of the European collection, by then huge, easily could have filled the freed-up space. But the Met decided to reserve the emptied galleries for blockbuster shows. So five centuries of old master painting stayed where it was and fell into a doze.
Now comes a change. The blockbuster spaces have been given back to the collection, and all 45 European painting galleries cosmetically overhauled: new floors, fresh paint, walls put up or brought down, etc. For the first time that I can remember, pictures really have room to breathe. And there are many more of them. A few months ago 450 paintings were on view; now there are more than 700.
We are not talking revolution. Visitors familiar with the holdings will see a lot of what they already know, but encounter old faces in new places, which can produce revelations. There are novelties: items either new, out of sight for decades or just never shown. Best of all, some top-shelf private loans have been integrated, for a limited time, into the galleries in celebration of the reopening.
Most important, the geography of the galleries has been recalibrated. The old arrangement was eccentric. To get from Jan van Eyck in 15th-century Bruges to Rembrandt in 17th-century Amsterdam you had to go through Italy. Italy itself was all over the map. Judging from their Met locations, you might have thought that Caravaggio and Tiepolo came from opposite ends of Europe. To trace a coherent historical path, audio guides were useless; you needed GPS.
No more. Now painting from northern Europe, excluding France, is laid out by date in the regained galleries. Italian painting is consolidated in a two-pronged format, with early work from Florence and Siena running in parallel streams that flow into Titian’s Venice.
France is now unitary, as is Spain (Goya used to be stuck out in nowheresville), and all national blocs are broken up by thematic displays. The keen-eyed may note a Met obsession with framing. The subject is hot these days, as is the market. Vintage examples cost a mint, and the Met is getting its share. Finally, certain much-loved pictures have returned to view with a spa-toned glow, thanks to the tender mercies of conservation.
But what makes the reinstallation most stimulating is a subtle feature, what you might call a curator’s secret weapon: the power of placement. Keith Christiansen, chairman of the European paintings department, has brilliantly orchestrated the collection as a play of dramatic vistas, visual lineups of images — seen around corners or over distances — that pull you forward in time and immerse you in textured layers of European culture.
I’ve seen these paintings time and again over the decades, and we didn’t have much time to explore because we had to get out to the Island for more family visits, but I couldn’t resist exploring anew. I certainly noticed the coherence of the French painting galleries. (One highlight appears at the top of this post, Georges de la Tour’s The Fortune Teller.) And it was a definite surprise to find that Bruegel, Rembrandt, and Vermeer weren’t where I have long known to find them. But find them I did:
Another special exhibition was embedded within the new installation, occupying a single room: Eighteenth-Century Pastels. It was a special treat:
With the 1929 bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, the Metropolitan Museum acquired its first pastels—about twenty nineteenth-century works by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, and Édouard Manet. For forty years, they were shown with our European and American paintings. It was not until 1956 that we were bequeathed a pastel by Jean Pillement (1728–1808). Between 1961 and 1975 we acquired a small group of works by John Russell (1745–1806), and there the matter stood until 2002, when the Metropolitan bought a pastel by the Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera (1673–1757). Since then we have purchased nearly a dozen others by Italian, French, British, German, and Danish artists. Most are portraits, and they are exhibited here with two vivid seascapes by Pillement from a private collection. Pastels are made from powdery substances that are fragile and subject to fading. In accordance with modern museum practice, they are exhibited in very low light or rotated to ensure their long-term preservation. This display is therefore a temporary extension of the new installation in the adjoining galleries for European Old Master paintings.
Leaving the European paintings, we rested a bit at a members lounge, then got our car and headed out the Midtown Tunnel to the Island.
So much more to see. But we were content.
Lee Child’s eighteenth Jack Reacher novel, Never Go Back, comes out in just over 24 hours. Once I start a Lee Child book, I’m powerless to resist. This presents a conundrum, because our annual Nantucket vacation begins tomorrow. Will downloading and reading a new Reacher novel enhance our vacation, or will it get in the way?
Maybe the answer depends on the weather. Reading would be perfect on a stormy day. But if the sun shines, we should be walking on the beach, riding bicycles over to Sconset, touring historic homes.
It doesn’t help that Janet Maslin gave the book a rave review last Friday in the NYT. At least I think the review is a rave. I didn’t get too far into it, for fear that I’d learn too much. The first paragraph was enough.
Lee Child’s bodacious action hero, Jack Reacher, has already tramped through 17 novels and three e-book singles. But his latest, “Never Go Back,” may be the best desert island reading in the series. It’s exceptionally well plotted. And full of wild surprises. And wise about Reacher’s peculiar nature. And positively Bunyanesque in its admiring contributions to Reacher lore.
Gosh. With praise like that, how can I wait even a minute?
Okay, I’ve just pre-ordered it for my Kindle. Maybe if I’m lucky Amazon will make it available tomorrow night and I won’t even have to wait until Tuesday. Oh, and more good news. Thunderstorms with 80% chance of rain Tuesday.
I still haven’t written Roche Harbor 3. When I do, I’ll describe our wonderful outing last Saturday in the waters of the San Juan Islands and the spectacular seafood feast during our break from boating. The outing ended with us being dropped at the Roche Harbor dock around 5:30 for our 6:00 Kenmore Air seaplane flight back to Seattle. (I took the shot above late in the afternoon, on our way back.) And what a beautiful flight it was, culminating as we swung from south to north by the top of the Space Needle and came in for our landing on Lake Union. We could see the faces of the people on the Space Needle observation deck. Well, Gail couldn’t. To my astonishment, she was looking at her iPhone.
Soon we were at the Kenmore Air Seattle dock, saying farewell to our companions, walking through the terminal, and out to our car. In my first Roche Harbor post I wrote about our arrival at the terminal the morning before:
Our flight was scheduled for 11:00 am. We arrived around 9:50 and spent some time parking. There’s a small free lot by the terminal, but it was full. The website spoke of a pay lot next door. We interpreted that to refer to the strip of public parking just off the street to the north of the terminal, found a spot there, paid for the day’s parking (Friday–it’s free Saturday), and checked in. I mention this detail because I will return to it in another post, the choice being a poor one.
The moment I spotted our car on our return, I knew something was wrong. It’s like the windows weren’t there. I could see right through. No tint. Gail’s reaction, as she would explain later, was different. She thought another car just like ours had parked next to our car and blocked the view of it. Sure enough, as we drew nearer, it was our car, and the windows were open. Or gone. Sunroof too. Once we got to the car, we saw that the glovebox was open and papers were strewn over the front passenger seat and floor.
Someone had broken in, obviously. But how did he (I assume he) open all the windows? Were the windows even there? Or had he carefully removed them all? Unlikely, but it seemed equally unlikely that he could have opened them all without starting the car. I suggested that Gail get her key out and start the car so we could at least verify that the windows were there. Which they were. Sunroof too. Everything was intact. Nothing was stolen.
I decided to go around and make sure each door worked. Only when I got to the final door, the driver’s, did I see that the lock mechanism had been punched out, with one piece on the ground. He must have hammered it in or broken it some other way, then gotten the door open. Did the alarm go off? Did he start the car to open the windows? If so, why not drive away in it? And anyway, why open them at all, unless the point was to inflict damage, in case it were to rain for instance? Or to give others access?
Anyway, as we relieved as we were that the car worked, that nothing was stolen, that the damage appeared confined to the broken lock, that nothing got wet, that no one malicious took advantage of the open windows and sunroof to vandalize anything, this was just about the most depressing sight imaginable.
Monday morning Gail called the dealer and prepared to drive the car up. I was talking to Bert, our remodel site superintendent and friend, about what happened when he mentioned that he knows some cars have a feature allowing you to (intentionally) open all windows at once. I went online to see how that might be done and read that you can hold down the unlock button on the key for 3 seconds to effect this. Maybe it’s hot and you want to get air circulating as you approach the car. Hold the button down and everything slides open. I went out and tried it on my car. Sure enough.
That made me feel a lot better. Presumably the miserable person who broke our lock didn’t intentionally open all the windows. Rather, his lock jimmying must have triggered the window-opening signal. He may have been taken entirely by surprise. Who knows? Maybe he even felt bad about it, wanting access to our belongings but not wanting the car left open to the elements.
Nonetheless, we had a broken lock. Gail drove the car out, got a loaner, ended up waiting three days for all the necessary parts to come in. She brought the repaired car home Thursday afternoon, just in time for our early morning departure the next day, yesterday, for New York, where we are now.